A HACK VS. A PROFESSIONAL.

A HACK VS. A PROFESSIONAL. From Defense News, a report on U.S. Comptroller David Walker's testimony in the House, and his confrontation with Illeana Ros-Lehtinen:

When U.S. Comptroller General David Walker finished delivering his rather grim assessment of ongoing violence and lack of political progress in Iraq, he was confronted by an unhappy Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. “I just feel uncomfortable listening to reports by the Government Accountability Office about a war effort and about Iraqi benchmarks. It just doesn’t seem to fit,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I’m used to reading reports from the GAO about student loan compliance, about Medicare programs.”

“I’m not saying that you’re bean counters,” Ros-Lehtinen told Walker, who heads the GAO. She seemed particularly disturbed by Walker’s assessment of what the Iraq war is doing to the U.S. Army.

“I can’t fathom why you are saying to us the Army is stretched too thin. What in the world qualifies you to say that?” demanded Ros-Lehtinen, who is the highest-ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “People at the Pentagon have said that,” Walker replied. Indeed, senior military officials, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, have warned for months that the Army will start running short of soldiers. In August, for example, Casey acknowledged that, “The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply.”

But she pressed on. “I just can’t imagine at one point during World War II, if we would have gotten a report from the General Accountability Office about whether we’re meeting the benchmarks on D-Day,” and what effect such a report would have had on public morale, she said.

Right...

There are a couple things going on here. First, since the GAO report contradicts a set of White House distributed talking points, the GAO must be wrong, unqualified, probably biased, etc. Of course, Ros-Lehtinen lacks any actual evidence that the GAO is wrong, so she's forced to resort to the fairly bizarre "this would have ruined morale in World War II" position.

More importantly, she seems to have a grave misunderstanding of what the GAO actually does. Since I have several former students who actually work at the GAO, I can testify with full confidence that the GAO does, in fact, closely examine defense related issues. Indeed, it even hires experts in the defense sphere to perform such evaluations. The reason it does so is because the Pentagon is the government's largest and most expensive bureaucracy, and keeping tabs on it absolutely critical to maintaining any check on defense acquisition and spending. Representative Ros-Lehtinen may be unaware of this, but there have in fact been several "scandals" involving Pentagon acquisitions, and it's not unheard of for defense projects to exceed their allocated budget.

Then again, I suppose this view of the GAO shouldn't be surprising. Ros-Lehtinen tips her hand a bit when she mentions student loans and Medicare; it's apparent that she believes the GAO should perform a vigorous watchdog function only on those programs that Republicans don't like. Since Republicans like the Pentagon, despite the aforementioned fact that it's the largest and most byzantine bureaucracy in government, oversight of its activities is improper. Again, not surprising; Republicans have long been of the view that "big government" is bad, except for the single largest part of government.

--Robert Farley

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